Discussing employee benefits is often regarded as an HR nightmare, especially if the conversations are about increased out of pocket costs or decreased benefits. The fact of the matter is that sometimes changes in benefits are not necessarily good news. Unfavorable changes in benefits can be a drain on employee morale. They can also make for uncomfortable communication as employees express their displeasure.
Even good changes like lower costs or increased benefits can be met with responses like “what took so long?” that may hamper the positivity of the communication. Most often, though, the conversations focus on clearing up confusion about the transitions. As an HR officer, it is vital that you have a communication strategy in place that is designed to handle most types of employee benefits issues, especially changes to benefits.
Start the discussion as soon as you see changes coming
As soon as you know for sure that changes are coming, start preparing your handouts, talking points, and scripts for your channels. Make sure you stay ahead of rumors and provide clear, concise information in a steady stream. Rumors can create pandemonium with confusion and multiple, differing messages. It is easier to put accurate information out there in front of the rumors as opposed to trying to do damage control behind them.
However, as you share information, make sure that it is factual. Don’t make any official announcements unless you are absolutely certain it is correct. You don’t want to have to backpedal or retract statements. Review the data on any new plans that are being implemented or changes taking place to make sure you can answer employee questions as accurately and clearly as possible.
Stay positive about the transition
Try to frame the change in a way that is positive and beneficial. Often, employees will react according to how you frame the message. If you show it as a favorable circumstance, they will be more apt to view it in a more positive light. For instance, if an established plan is being cut, it is important to let employees know that this does not mean all benefits will be cancelled. Let them know what is available to them and highlight the benefits or advantages, especially if they are better than the previous plan that was cut.
Look for the good in the changes and highlight any advantage you can identify.
Change happens, but sometimes the employee may not see it as something beneficial when:
•Their plan is being cut
•They will have to pay more money
•Any change is made that may not be what they want
There is a tendency to automatically default to the negative. However, when you frame your message in a positive way and give them time to process the information, they will often feel better about the situation.
Keep employee benefits communication clear
Industry jargon has its place, but not when you are trying to explain benefits to employees. Most employees aren’t familiar with the terminology that is industry specific and using it may create more confusion and increase uncertainty. This is the opposite of what you want to accomplish with your communication.
Look to provide clarity in every message, every step of the way. Use layman’s terms and if you must use industry jargon, make sure you provide a clear, concise explanation so there is no question about just what you mean. If you are writing a handout, use short sentences and paragraphs or bullet points along with graphics and an easy to read layout. Remember to keep it simple.
Prepare for frequent communication over multiple channels
You can’t over-communicate employee benefits. They are important, and employees need to know about updates, news, and other issues. Even when nothing in particular is going on, you should still communicate updates on a regular basis, even if it is nothing more than inviting employees to call or schedule an appoint to discuss their benefits or coverage needs.
You should also use multiple channels to share the information. Mobile devices, social media, the HR portal, brown bag lunch discussions, electronic, and print are all great ways to get the information into employees’ hands.
Personalize the message
Employees have different needs. A worker who is married with children will have different coverage needs that from a worker who is not married. This means that you will need to tailor the message to address a variety of situations so that you can personalize the experience and help employees understand the changes and transitions as it applies to their own unique situation.
What is your strategy for communication employee benefits transitions? What methods have you found to be most useful?
CoreMark can help you help your employees through benefits transitions. Call today to learn more.